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Classic novels usually share in the aspect of universal themes
which touch people through out the ages. All types of audiences can relate
to and understand these underlying ideas. Victorian novels such as Thomas
Hardy's The Return of the Native and Charles Dickens' Great Expectations
are examples of literary classics that have universal themes. Hardy's tale
illustrates the role of chance in his characters lives. Through the story
we encounter events of pure coincidence and their effects. Dickens,
considered to be more of a reformer (Literature Online), tries to portray a
social theme in his novel. The basic theme of Great Expectations is that
good does not come from ones social standing but rather comes from their
inner value. These novels are considered classics because of their timeless
Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native displays a theme of chance.
Book First, chapter 8 contains a perfect example. Eustacia persuades young
Johnny Nunsuch into helping her feed a fire. She dismisses him and begins
to walk home. Before reaching home, he is frightened by the light coming
from the heath and returns to discover Wildeve meeting with Eustacia. By
pure chance, Venn discovers the boy and quizzes him.
"Then I came down here, and I was afeard, and I went back; but I didn't
like to speak to her, because of the gentleman, and I came on here again"
" A gentleman--ah! What did she say to him, my man?" [Diggory Venn]
"Told him she supposed he had not married the other woman because he liked
his old sweetheart best; and things like that" [Johnny Nunsuch]
[Book First, chapter 8, pp. 82]
This chance exchange reveals that Wildeve is meeting with Eustacia. Venn
uses this to his advance by announcing himself to Mrs. Yeobright as a
suitor for Thomasin. This backfires because Mrs. Yeobright tries to use the
second suitor to force Wildeve to marry Thomasin. These events all occur
from the chance meeting between Venn and Johnny Nunsuch. Another example of
chance and coincidence can be seen in the famous gambling scene of Book
Third, chapter VII. This is perhaps one of the most critically examined
parts of the book.
" "Very well," said Wildeve, rising.
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found a large flat stone, which he placed between himself and Christian,
and sat down again. The lantern was open to give more light, and it's rays
directed upon the stone. Christian put down a shilling, Wildeve another,
and each threw. Christian won. They played for two. Christian won again."
[Book Third, chapter 7, pp. 229]
This quote begins the drama of the scene. Mrs. Yeobright had entrusted
Christian to deliver a minor inheritance to Clym and Thomasin. He gets
involved in a dice game with Damon and unfortunately loses all hundred
guineas. By chance, Diggory Venn passes by and in the hope of protecting
Thomasin, wins back all the money from Wildeve. He mistakenly hands over
all the winnings to Thomasin without understanding that part of the money
belongs to Clym. This chance occurrence led to a tragic end. Although he
was trying to do good, Venn succeeded to further create conflict. Critics
agree with this standpoint.
"The Return of the Native is concerned with the 'general malaise in the
life of humanity. Man is a pawn in life's lottery .... Man's life avails
him nothing. Men are just incidental in creation. Man may protest against
his fate, but it makes no difference, he only a plaything, he cannot master
his destiny." [Henry Adler]
In these examples and critical quotes, we see the negative stance Hardy is
taking in the immoral theme of chance.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens is also a classic novel due
to its universal theme of true good.
"Great Expectations is Charles Dickens' "most compactly perfect book,"
mainly because of the universal themes that are fully realized throughout
the novel. Furthermore, as an explanation of why Great Expectations is
Dicken's finest work, it becomes necessary study to study the thematic
elements that are prevalent within the storyline." [George Bernard Shaw]
The theme is developed through a character Pirrip Philip, a poor orphaned
boy living with his sister and her husband, Joe. He is a father figure for
the boy and is a hard working blacksmith, loyal and good friend. While
visiting his family's grave site, he is approached by an escaped convict
who demands that Pip bring him food and a metal file. He does so promptly
but the convict is quickly recaptured. After some time he is hired by an
rich eccentric woman named Miss Havisham to be her adopted daughters
playmate. Jaggers, a lawyer, informs Pip that someone has settled money for
the boy and he has "great expectations".
" Now I return to this young fellow. And the communication I got to make is,
that he has Great Expectations" [Chapter 18, pp. 151]
For some time now Pip was disliking the "uncommon" life and started to
admire the lifestyle of Miss Havisham and the upper class. To put it short,
he was becoming a snob. This event advanced the plot and theme. Under the
agreement made Pip was not supposed to know who his benefactor was although
he believed it to be Miss Havisham. One evening while living in England, a
stranger appears to visit Pip. It was the convict of his youth. Named
Magwitch, he has been Pip's benefactor all along. This was his way of
repaying his charity as a youth. The events that follow with Magwitch teach
Pip love and humility. His snobbish quality is removed. After the convicts
death, Pip becomes ill and is nursed back to health by his true friend Joe.
The money that he is handed changes his personality and causes him to
ignore the people that he has known fondly his entire life but finally
realizes that true goodness comes from a person rather than their social
class. This shows that wealth and position can be corrupting. This theme is
present today as it ever was during Dickens time.
From a personal standpoint, these novels have had an impressive
influence on my life and the way I think as it would for anybody of my age
and education. By absorbing the themes of true goodness and chance, I have
enlightened myself. I realize that money, power or property does not
necessarily make a person good but rather that depends on the individual.
The tale of Pip can serve as the perfect guide not to become a victim of
false ideology. Undoubtedly people of my age should come away with a better
understanding of life and our place in the world just as I have. It is
quite appropriate for people of our education level to be enriched in the
world of classic literature. The timeless nature of the stories is reason
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations, New York: New York Scholastic Inc.,
Hardy, Thomas. The Return of the Native, New York: New York Nal Penguin
Thompson, Frank H. Cliff Notes on Hardy's The Return of the Native
Nebraska: Lincoln Cliff Notes Inc., 1966
http://www.literature.org Literature Online, Internet Site Resource
providing criticism on literary works.